Even Good Boys Feel Bad, part II
When I sent out my request for any personal stories or anecdotes regarding people’s mental health journey, I imagined that I would be artfully and cleverly compiling them into some kind of masterwork of extreme educational value which would also be sublimely touching in its expressive unveiling of humanity. But then I received the following response from a certain Toilet-Regular(tm) Mr. SlimeyLimey, who has artfully expressed everything I had hoped to and more. The invitation to send submissions, questions or discussions directly to me still stands, either at firstname.lastname@example.org, or publicly in the comments below. But until then, let us pull up a pot of tea and delight together in Mr. Limey’s words and wisdom.
I started therapy over 20 years ago when I first got diagnosed with major depression. I had been resistant to it given the stigma surrounding it, and the whole “you just need to pull yourself together”, “stiff upper lip” mentality of non-sufferers, especially when growing up back in Britain. It is much better today, but unfortunately this bullshit still exists and prevents more folks from seeking the help they need.
It’s been on and off, with the different times being different approaches. Initially, a lot of my depression was rooted (and still is to a certain extent) in crippling shyness and introversion. So, the first sequence of therapy was primarily aimed at dealing with that – and it was amazingly helpful. Subsequent therapies have been aimed more at the depression itself and the negative, and now severely ingrained, thought processes. Initially this took the form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and now is about self-compassion/acceptance and really digging deep into the thought patterns behind my suicidal ideation.
So here are my thoughts regarding starting therapy. Obviously, this is from my own personal experience and should be taken as such. But, hopefully, there is something here for everyone irrespective of the reasons for which they are embarking on therapy. Also, finances are different for each person/country, so I won’t touch on that here – I had to pay for my initial therapies way back when but am lucky to have insurance cover the majority now.
You will feel very mixed emotions going to that first therapy sessions: why am I doing this, this probably isn’t going to work, what if I don’t like the therapist (or even worse they don’t like me), and so on. But equally, there is also that hope that maybe, just maybe, this might finally help things get better.
“Why am I doing this?” First of all, and this is hard, the fact you are even doing this is something to be proud of. Despite perception, there is no shame and you are doing what is right for you – everyone else can fuck off (of course I’m writing this with 20 years hindsight but please remember this). This is for you.
“This probably isn’t going to work.” There are many different approaches, and what works for one person may not work for another, or what works one time is not appropriate for a different time. That’s okay.
“What if I don’t like the therapist?” People are people are people and sometimes you simply don’t find that connection. That’s okay too. I’ve worked with several and it’s okay to change. As far as not liking you – guess what, that’s okay as well. They don’t have to be your friend in order to care, have empathy, and want to help you the best they can.
Beginning any therapy requires basic expectations from both sides. From a mundane point of view, that first session will involve a lot of paperwork and just a general getting to know each other. Don’t expect revelations that first time. It will require a period of time to build up mutual trust. This is essential as ultimately, and this is the therapist expectations, you have to be honest and open with your therapist – if you are not truly telling them about things then they won’t be able to help you as well as they could. Makes sense right, but I’ve been guilty of hiding things which obviously didn’t help (made things worse) and I spent a lot of money for that privilege. Inherent in this is that it can (for me personally, not necessarily for others) be a slow process. This should be designed to have a lasting effect, to give you the tools necessary to deal with this aspect of your life to come out stronger. So, and this was really hard for me, go in with high but realistic expectations.
This also brings us back to: what if I don’t like the therapist? Use your gut instinct. Therapy for me is about dealing with emotions and not an intellectual exercise (more on that later), and if you don’t “feel” it, then in my experience it just won’t work. So, give it a couple of sessions, but if you don’t feel that connection do not be afraid to try another therapist. I certainly have, and was always glad to have done so. Also, many therapists are trained in multiple techniques/approaches so spend those first few sessions ironing out a plan of attack that feels best for you (the therapist should initiate this). However, if you feel an approach is not working (for whatever reason) say so, and you can work together to try something different. For example, I tried CBT for a while but while it made total sense to me on an intellectual level and I could do the exercises in my head, I just wasn’t feeling it at the emotional level. So now we are trying the self-compassion/acceptance approach, which I do feel. But that’s just me personally, and CBT has worked wonders for several friends. So, again work with your therapist to find what’s best for you.
“But there is hope.” Hold on to that thought because yes there is. That’s why you’re doing this in the first place.